For two weeks in 2007, a space shuttle carried a lightsaber.
Ask an engineer, scientist, or astronaut who works in a space program about what inspired her to make our place in space and you’re bound to hear Star Trek or Star Wars. The latter has been so influential in fact that, as a part of public outreach, riding aboard NASA’s STS-120 mission was Mark Hamill’s lightsaber prop from 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
The civilized weapon was loaned to NASA by George Lucas and was presented to NASA officials a few months earlier by Chewbacca himself outside of Oakland International Airport in California. The officials were then escorted by Stormtroopers, Sith lords, and bounty hunters alike en route to Space Center Houston before the lightsaber was loaded for transport to the International Space Station. No, seriously:
Stormtroopers escort Roger Bornstein, Space Center Houston’s director of marketing, as he carries Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber through Houston’s Hobby Airport. (Image: CollectSpace)
From Houston, Luke’s lightsaber was packed up in preparation for flight aboard the space shuttle Discovery (pictured above), launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It wasn’t just a publicity stunt. Entwining science and science fiction brings interest to our efforts to tame the void and in-turn can inspire science fiction to push our imaginations further.
“There’s a kind of a fine line between science fiction and reality as far as what we do, and it’s only just time really because a lot of what we’re doing right now was science fiction when I was growing up,” said veteran NASA astronaut Jim Reilly, “I think it’s a neat link because it combines two space themes all at one time.”
Unfortunately, no astronaut aboard the ISS was able to take the lightsaber out from the storage on Discovery and have microgravity Jedi battles. The ROTJ prop stayed packed away for the duration of the mission as STS-120 successfully delivered the Harmony module to the station. Afterwards it was returned to George Lucas.
But for a brief moment, maybe the most iconic piece from a movie about a galaxy far, far away was as close to another galaxy as it could get.
IMAGES: NASA; Lucasfilm; CollectSpace